Below you’ll find my bracket for the NCAA tourney. I know some fans like to fill out several different brackets, but I sink or swim with the same picks in every pool I enter. (For amusement purposes only, of course.)
As I’m getting ready to promote Bet the House, I’ve already seen a few criticisms from folks saying it’s irresponsible for me to write a book ‘celebrating’ gambling. I don’t know if any of these people have actually read the book—-but either way, I’m wondering if they all refuse to participate in NCAA po0ls on moral grounds.
If you copy my selections and you do well, you’re welcome. If you tank, whoops! Sorry about that. I’ve done pretty well the last couple of years, but let’s face it, there’s a lot of luck involved in these things. I tried to pick a few key upsets, but you don’t want to get too clever. In the end, the cream usually rises.
Here’s my review of “The Hurt Locker” from last summer…
“The Hurt Locker” A+
“The Hurt Locker” is a war film set in present-day Iraq, but it is not about the war in Iraq.
It is about the universal soldier who becomes addicted to war. It is about war as a drug. It is about a man who goes home and is utterly lost in the grocery store—-but completely comfortable dodging enemy fire and defusing bombs in brutal, hostile conditions.
It is a searing, unforgettable film filled with unbearably tense set pieces and first-rate performances.
Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (who was embedded with a U.S. bomb-disposal squad in Iraq in 2004) have fashioned a gritty, visceral slice of the insanely dangerous, day-to-day operations of a squad of American soldiers that are risking their lives as regularly as you and I take a three-day weekend. (And they know full well that a huge percentage of the civilians back home think they shouldn’t even be in Baghdad, or are completely indifferent to their mission.)
Bigelow veers close to glamorizing the bloodshed with her penchant for ear-splitting rock and roll and her admittedly impressive, slow-motion shots of explosions. But she also serves up horrific scenes of death and destruction that serve as a punch to the gut. Even if a soldier survives a war physically uninjured, he does not emerge intact.
We follow the day-to-day routines of an elite bomb squad that has 38 days left in their rotation. In the opening scene, where the squad uses a rolling ‘bot’ to sniff out a bomb on a busy street in Baghdad, we’re sure something won’t happen because of an element I don’t want to divulge here—-and yet it happens anyway. From that moment, Bigelow serves notice. We’re in for a hellacious ride.
Jeremy Renner isn’t 1/10th as famous as many of his peers, but he’s got much more of a star presence and better chops than just about any pretty boy actor you can think of. Renner commands the screen here in a performance worthy of a young Russell Crowe. His Sgt. James is a classic, conflicted, deeply flawed hero. Swaggering macho—-but not a caricature. Extremely good at what he does—-but the antithesis of the team player.
James has defused more than 800 bombs, and he keeps the switches in a box under his bed, noting that these cheap pieces of plastic and wire could have killed him in others in a heartbeat. At times his bravery crosses the line into death-wish territory—-but he’s not dead inside. He strikes up a friendship with an Iraqi boy, and he’s conflicted about the estranged wife and young son he’s left behind. (Evangeline Lilly from “Lost” has an effective cameo as the wife. We also get brief but memorable turns from Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes.)
The underrated Anthony Mackie is brilliant here as a hardened vet who has moments of intense doubt. Brian Geraghty has the Jeremy Davies thing down pat as a good-hearted but brittle soldier who has post-traumatic stress syndrome written all over his future. There isn’t a weak performance in this film.
Although it’s not quite in the same league as “Coming Home” and “The Deer Hunter,” this movie strikes similar themes about the huge chasm separating the maddening, adrenaline rush of the war experience and the beautiful banality of everyday home life. When a civilian sees a war veteran in a bar or on a bus in the States, and the vet is staring into space or acting strangely, we might think of him as cliche. Get over it, we think. When we see that veteran through Bigelow’s eyes, we’re amazed that anyone returning home from these experiences can achieve even moments of “normalcy.”
This is one of the best films of the year.
Did we really get an Interpretive Dance tribute to “The Hurt Locker”? Good Lord, the people who put on these shows never learn. No matter how talented the performers, you cannot do an interpretive dance number for something like “The Hurt Locker” without inducing mass chortling. I wanted lyrics as well: “When the explosions come/it’s gonna be a shocker/if you don’t know the combination/to…The Hurt Locker!”
So they tried something new this year for the “In Memoriam” segment: James Taylor doing a lovely version of the Beatles’ “In My Life” as we saw montage of the recently departed, from Brittany Murphy to David Carradine to brilliant writers such as Horton Foote and Larry Gelbert and legendary directors such as Eric Rohmer.
Problem was, they once kept kept the mics open throughout the Kodak Theater, so we could hear the robust cheers for the better-known icons, and the woeful smattering of claps for behind-the-scenes talents and older character actors.
It’s just so unseemly. As I’ve said every year FOR A MILLION YEARS: Even in death, the star system is in place.
Winner for Best Costume starts out by saying, “I already have two of these.”
Fine, then give this one back!
Congratulations to Mo’Nique for the expected win—-but I’m wondering why she believes her victory is evidence the Academy can reward performance over politics. What the hell does that mean? Doesn’t the Academy usually reward the performance?
OK what was up with the Lady in the Purple Dress who hijacked the “Music by Prudence” speech moment? For a second I thought she was going to say, “Beyonce should have won!”
That was even more awkward than the quick-cut to the Coen Brothers after Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin made an “Inglourious Basterds” joke about Christoph Waltz’s character finding a roomful of Jews.
The transcript of Christoph Waltz’s acceptance speech is below.
It’s confirmed: this is the first time an Oscar winner has used the phrase “uber bingo.”
Oscar and Penélope that’s an über bingo. I always wanted to discover some new continent and I thought I had to go this way, and then I was introduced to Quentin Tarantino, who was putting together an expedition that was equipped by Harvey Weinstein and Lawrence Bender and David Linde, and he put this script in front of me and he said, “This is where we’re going, but we’re going the other way.”
So Brad Pitt helped me on board and Diane Kruger was there Melanie Laurent and Denis Menochet and Bob Richardson and Sally Menke and Adam Schweitzer and Lisa Kasteler. Everybody helped me find a place. Universal and The Weinstein Company and ICM and Quentin, with his unorthodox methods of navigation, this fearless explorer, took this ship across and brought it in with flying colors and that’s why I’m here.
And this is your welcoming embrace and there’s no way I can ever thank you enough, but I can start right now. Thank you.
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